Beowulf: 4th/5th Century Throwback

The film Beowulf opens today. In the English language, it is signatory as one of the first writings in Old English, students probably rate it slightly higher than the later Canterbury Tales because of the epic subject matter-swords, gold, and dragons-though the diction is obtuse and filled with Nordic/Germanic words which did not survive the francophonetic induction of the Normans.

It tells the tale of the Saxons before they left the area of Denmark and Northern Germany and came to England, most likely in the 5th century A.D. This followed the 4th Century invasion of Britain by the Picts(L: Picti),Scots (L: Scoti),and Attacotti which was repulsed by Count Theodosius, the magister militum of the western Roman empire. The latter groups were enrolled in the legions, according to the historian Ammianus, and are listed in the Noticia Dignitatum,which enumerates every military unit and fortification from Arab auxilaries in Syria and Mesopotamia(a buffer zone separating the Roman and Persian empires) to units in northern Britain and the Rhine and as far south as Aswan and Elephantine Island in Egypt. In England, there was a late Roman military command known as "Count of the Saxon Shore" responsible for fending off attacks of oceangoing Saxons from the Nordic lands.

However, the Vandal invasion of Africa resulted in the loss of the tax base and good weather locale of the Western empire, akin to the loss of California to the U.S., and its decline into insignificance. Rome abandoned Britain in 410 A.D., despite feel-good propaganda efforts such as this medallion of Emperor Constantius entering London with the legend "Restorer of the Eternal Light" -L: redditor lucis aeternae

Vigorous Germanic societies, such as the one featured in Beowulf, operating at the edge of the former Roman empire thus came to prominence. J.R.R. Tolkien, a scholar of Old English, was largely responsible for the serious poetic study of Beowulf and advancing its role as a literary masterpiece. The theme influenced the Lord of the Rings, his fictional work.


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